Two months ago I wrote a blog post about how I was going to learn every language. At the time I had just finished the Pimsleur tapes for Romanian I and German I, and was moving on to German II. I've now finished a complete Pimsleur course, German I - III, and figured I should write about it while it's still fresh in my mind.
The short version is that I love Pimsleur, but it's not perfect and it's not for everyone. The best method of language learning is full immersion with studying. If your primary focus is to learn a language, I would recommend that over Pimsleur by a landslide. For all the information you could ever want on that, check out my buddy Benny Lewis' book about it.
Pimsleur, on the other hand, is perfect for people who want to learn large usable chunks of languages without impacting their schedule. Right now, that's me.
The Pimsleur method is based on spaced repetition, having to recall words at specific intervals needed by the brain to commit them to memory. Every day you listen to a 25-30 minute tape, which requires you to respond to prompts. I'd say it's roughly 50/50 in terms of listening and repeating.
The more major languages have 90 day courses, broken up into I, II, and III levels, so you end up listening to 45 hour of a language and speaking it for 45 hours. Over that time your listening comprehension becomes quite good, as does your accent. I found German pronunciation difficult at first, but all of that repetition has left me pronouncing with ease.
Pimsleur courses are very similar to each other. The first thirty days of each one are almost exactly the same in terms of vocab and phrases that you learn. Once you get to the second level, the grammar of the language begins to be addressed, and vocab becomes more tailored to the culture of the language you're learning. The third level really ramps up the amount of vocab you learn, and continues to introduce new grammar.
My biggest complaint, by far, of Pimsleur is that the vocabulary selection is just adequate. It's focused heavily on business topics and formalities, leaving some common and useful words out completely. I would be much happier they took the top X most used words and then taught them in that order.
For languages with varying levels of formality, there is a very strong emphasis on the polite forms. So in German I learned Sie, not Du. They give a token effort to the informal, but I would have preferred it to be the other way around.
There's also a token effort to teach reading, at least in German. If I recall correctly, Japanese doesn't have that. I don't care very much about reading, so this is enough for me.
The real beauty of Pimsleur is that it's consistent and predictable. If you just listen to the tape every day and do your best, you will get results. You don't have to plan lessons or study or do flashcards. You just do your tape and forget about it until the next day. If you do your tapes on the train or in the car, you can have almost no impact on your available time.
After one month, you learn enough of your language to be useful in visiting that country. You aren't able to have a real conversation, but you can ask for directions, order, ask basic questions, and understand the responses. In Romania I managed to cobble together a sentence about buying a SIM card for a phone.
After two months, you essentially have the same capability, but with a larger vocabulary and greater capacity to understand responses. You understand more grammar, but probably not well enough to actually use it effectively.
After three months, you can have basic conversations. Your limiting factor will be vocabulary, your accent will be quite good, and your subconscious understanding of grammar will also be good. You'll probably be able to read enough to make use of signs (except pictographic languages). This is an excellent foundation for studying the language independently, which is what I did with Japanese and what Todd did with Spanish. One month of drilling useful vocabulary would make you conversational (with tolerable grammatical errors).
Pimsleur is great, but I desperately wish it was better. It focuses on all of the things that matter most for traveling, but the limited/misprioritized vocabulary and formality mean that I'm spending a lot of time learning things I don't really care about. Even still, I consider it to be a really great investment of time and I plan on continuing through until I've learned over 20 languages. Next up is Egyptian Arabic.
Photo is some graffiti from Berlin
Have you found the dialogs in pdf format? I stumbled on the level 1 and photocopied them but I lost the link. I am looking for level 2&3 as well as all levels of Italian. I like learning to read at the same time. If you or anyone ever takes the time to write out these dialogs......I'd really like a copy
I have the exact same problems with Pimsleur, focuses WAY too much on the polite way to say words, which is not good when you simply want to make friends. Very annoying and I agree it could be done better, competition could definitely be made to them
After you finish SETT, you should start a competitor to Pimsleur that fixes the problems you stated. :-)
Tynan, thanks for sharing your experience with Pimsleur and I wanted to share a link with you that might be interesting... it's a language course for russian that my wife has been learning from (she just finished) and I've been impressed with the teacher, he uses a lot of the memory techniques too. It was originally a podcast so you could probably use it just like the tapes but they have a video course on udemy that's where we found it.Hope you find it useful, the teacher was involved in a Japanese course too and I'm pretty sure knows Benny and consulted for the book.
Tynan, how are you going to make sure you keep your German ability while you go on to study other languages?
I'm a big fan of Pimsleur. Over the years, I've done the full 3-level courses for several languages: Spanish, French, Italian, German and Japanese. I also did the old 10-lesson Romanian and Korean courses, before they expanded them. Pimsleur is definitely my favorite way to get a basic foundation in a language relatively quickly and easily.
One issue I've had with Pimsleur: how to effectively review what you've learned after finishing the courses if you aren't regularly using the language? If you don't use it or review it, after a while you are going to forget it, and all that time you've invested in learning the language will be "wasted". I've tried just redoing a random Pimsleur lesson every once in a while, but wasn't too happy with that approach. Another idea is to listen to just the dialogs from the start of each lesson, which will help you review the language a bit without having to redo an entire lesson. I think this is more useful if you make the dialogs into SRS flashcards and reviewed them periodically -- you won't get any practice actually speaking, but at least you will be hearing the language, which helps keep up your skills.
Expanding on this approach, for the last couple of languages I've learned with Pimsleur, I took the time to create audio SRS flashcards of most of the sentences in the Pimsleur lessons using Audacity and Anki, and try to review those cards regulary. Even if you don't manage to keep up on the reviews, when you do decide to brush up on the language at some point, it seems to be more effective and efficient to review the cards in Anki than redoing all the Pimsleur lessons.
I wrote some scripts to help automate the flash card generation process a bit, but if IIRC, it usually took me about 1.5 hours per lesson to make the cards as opposed to the 30 minutes to do the lesson the normal way. If you made "audio-only" flashcards, you could probably speed this up a bit -- a big chunk of the 1.5 hours was time spent transcribing the audio. But if you don't transcribe at least the English version of the sentence, it gets difficult to keep track of which sentences you have already created cards for (since Pimselur usually repeats sentences and many variations on that sentence later in the lesson and in subsequent lessons), and you probably don't want lots of cards with duplicate sentences as that would sort of defeat the purpose of putting it into SRS.
In any case, once you do the work to create the flashcards, then you have a way to review that material forever using SRS.
IN my experience Michel Thomas blows Pimsleur out the water. MT teaches effectively teaches grammar without actually "teaching grammar." As michel says "learn how to use the verbs and you learn the language. The rest is just vocabulary"
With MT even if a sentence is chock FULL of words you dont know, but you know all your prepositions and important verbs like the modal verbs,conjunctions etc, then the sentence sounds like this " He could have just [ADVERB] [VERB1]ed her, since he is always [Verb2]ing to [VERB3] with her [ADJECTIVE] [NOUN]."
there is NO CONTENT in that sentence, but you know exactly what words to look up, and you even have some idea which ones are most important and HOW they relate to the other parts of the sentence. You know if "he" Verb1ed to "her" then his doing Verb3 wouldn't be an issue to the narrator.
The lessons come in 8 x 1hours lessons for the beginner course and 4 x 1 hours lessons for the advanced (though you'll be far from advanced after it). I've done French(past advanced), Spanish(beginner), Dutch(advanced), German(beginner), Italian(beginner), and Russian(beginner). The trick is to listen to the tapes at 1.4x or as high as 1.8x, since he talks REALLY SLOW, but then you really have to concentrate and not do anything else.
I did it for spanish, only 4hours worth, and i was able to strike up a convo with someone in the metro in barcelona, and I ended up hanging out with them for the rest of the day. They didn't speak a WORD of english, and 24hours prior i didn't speak a word of english. Over the 6hours we hung out I looked up all the words i didn't know (constantly) on google translate, and quickly developed a working vocab of the most commonly used words, and of course they simplified their speech.
German, also only got through half way through the beginner course- but I ended up having a long conversation with the taxi driver for about half an hours while we were stuck in traffic about how he feels that when he goes to turkey his family sees him as german, but where he used to live in germany they saw him as turkish (though things are better now in berlin where he now lives).
I have similar stories with italian french and dutch. Russian, however was not that easy. I only got through the first half of the beginners course which i figured would get me as far as it had with the other languages, but I had expected to be able to converse with the taxi driver but I could barely get anything across.
I was wondering why you don't take the languages in regions, after German it would make sense to start Danish, French, Polish or maybe Italian, Dutch or Swedish. That way you can travel with your languages in clusters too.I'm looking forward to trying the pimsleur method for German when I get back from Mexico. Could be really cool to lock down a fourth language. And even one that is so great for marketing!
That is incredible. Where I come from in India, most people routinely speak 3-5 languages. For most Americans learning a new language is a significant challenge. I believe it is more of a mind block. Your post is extremely encouraging both in its content and approach. Certainly makes me want to learn a foreign language. Perhaps start with French. Something I started many years ago. Thanks for sharing.
A lot of you who have been following Tynan for a while probably understand by now that Tynan loves traveling and he's also learning Japanese these days. I'm sure a lot of Tynan's readers share a common passion for travel, and I'm sure a lot of you are either studying or planning to study a foreign language.
Learning a new language can be on of the most difficult yet rewarding things one can do with their time. If done correctly, one will fail numerous times, be able to express themselves in unique ways and have easier access to a new culture. Currently Language-learning has been quite the rage, with services such as Rosetta Stone and Rocket languages selling like hotcakes and blogs such as fluentin3months having massive success. New services, such as duolingo and italki are changing the landscape of language learning business and making language learning ridiculously cheaper, and more accessible to everyone. I’ve undertaken learning 3 different languages, with varying success in each, but with each subsequent one being much easier to learn. I’ve tried to see how fast the human mind can learn a new language, especially ones that are radically different from ones native tongue. Currently I’ve learned a good amount of Japanese, Chinese and German, with my Japanese and German being significantly better than Chinese, but still not good enough to be able to have effortless conversations, which means I must keep pressing on.
I’ve found learning languages to be a very dynamic process. Each language has its own way of expressing itself, Some are very clear, cut and use short, direct words, as I have found to be the case with Chinese. Others are more vague, longwinded, or emphasize particular things, such as Japanese having a verb ending that signals the completion of something. Regardless, learning a new language will definitely bestow you with a new way of looking at the world. Here I want to share 4 things to keep in mind that have radically helped me when learning languages.
1. Spend sometime understanding the aspects of the language you are about to learn. Specifically try to focus on sentence structure and how meaning is added to the sentence. For example, German is very similar to English, it is subject-verb-object (sometimes its gets mumbled up, but for the most part it is), is preposition heavy and is written in the same scripture, which makes it significantly easier to learn than say Japanese or Chinese. But German is also high agglunative, which means it building meaning by joining words together. German also has an emphasis on cases and gender that is not present in English.
This might seem obvious, but it is very rarely done. Before you embark on the journey of learning a language and learning detailed grammar rules for a specific cases focus on things such as how nouns relate in the sentence, where conjugation happens, and how important is it. A good exercise is usually to get sentences with varying structure and translate them into your target language, something tim ferris suggests in the 4-hour-chef. Exercises like this allow you to find the pattern that will most likely hold true in 80%+ of all sentences. This is makes for a very solid foundation that would otherwise take weeks if one were just frantically reviewing, and learning step by step, instead focus on what the majority of sentences look like, dissect the key elements, and apply them.
2. Find and use a handful of excellent resources at a time; get involved in online communities. The most important thing to keep in mind when one is beginning to learn a language is to find high-quality resources. Find online communities for your target language by googling something like “learn german forum” and see what people are saying, which books their recommending etc. Another good way to find solid resources is to go on Amazon see which books in your target language have good reviews/sales. When I started learning my first foreign language, Japanese, I bought 4-5 books on Japanese, enrolled in two podcasts, had various decks in my flash card program, ranging from beginner to advanced, and used 4 different websites. This was a HORRIBLE idea. Not only was grammar, and vocabulary introduced at different times in each book, but managing progress was very hard, with notes in one book, flash cards, on my computer, and trying to juggle which activity I should do next.